Know what a “Tween” is? Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which might not be such a bad idea, actually), you know a tween is the trendy label for those ages 9 to 12 – not quite a child anymore, but not quite a teenager. A “tweenager,” if you will. I’m the proud father of a tween. She’s obsessed with all the typical things that girls her age are – fashion, Miley Cyrus, High School Musical, Jonas Brothers, and fashion. The problem is, I’m not sold on the idea that all those obsessions are the right ones.
Here’s the deal. I had a great childhood. Idyllic, really. I want the same for my daughter. But we live in a radically different world today, and I’m afraid she’s being exposed to a lot of things that are stealing her childhood right out from under our noses.
When I was 10, I regularly walked six blocks, from my grandmother’s house to a Pak-a-Sak, to spend a buck on a softdrink (10 cents), a candy bar (5 cents) a comic book (15 cents) with the same for my little sister – and the change going back to my grandmother. Today, we don’t even let my daughter to be alone in our front yard for any length of time – forget letting her walk with a friend six blocks to the nearest supermarket. Not gonna happen.
But those things are obvious, safety issues we deal with because of our more violent society. What’s not so obvious is the issue of appropriate role models and appropriate entertainment choices for a ten-year-old. Enter Miley Cyrus and her Disney handlers.
One of the other things that’s radically different from my childhood is the Mouse. Disney. You know – the “happiest place on Earth.” That sort of thing. When I was a kid, Disney = wholesome. If it had the Disney name attached, you knew it was going to be age-appropriate for the entire family. Now, I’m sure that ol’ Walt is turning in his cryogenic chamber. I happened to watch a video that was playing between shows on the Disney Channel the other day. It featured Vanessa “I thought it was a good idea to snap naked pics of myself and email them to a boy” Hudgens. She was dancing (read: pelvic thrusting and grinding) against a number of actors/dancers of the opposite sex. To say that this video was a little racy for the tweeners out there is like saying the last time it rained like this, Noah built a boat. Understatement to the extreme. Frankly, I couldn’t care less what Vanessa does in her spare time – that is, right up until Disney promotes her in such a fashion to make tweens want to emulate her.
When the news on Vanessa broke, Mrs. Digital and I sat down with our daughter and talked to her about it. She was, frankly, grossed out about the idea of a girl taking a picture of herself sans clothing, and horrified she would show it to a boy she liked. She now sees Vanessa as “trashy” and “not someone to emulate.” (Her words – not mine. Sorry Sears.)
We did some research on Miley “Hannah Montana” Cyrus. The show seems harmless enough – she dresses appropriately (and not like a Britney Spears-style PopTart). I caught an interview with her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, on the Glenn Beck show on Headline News. He came across as a solid guy, trying to keep his daughter grounded. So far, so good. Then the photo shoot incident came up.
Now you can slice this any way you want, but when you allow a 15-year-old kid to submit to a photo shoot where she poses partially clad in only a sheet, you’ve got a screw loose. I don’t blame the photog – it’s her job to push the subject to get pics that will sell – and we all know sex sells, even if it’s sexualizing an underage girl. But what in the HELL were her parents thinking? None of their explainations ring true. My suspicion is that they wanted it both ways, “Miley’s a good girl, but a few sexy pics won’t hurt.” Yes. They do.
Now there are rumors floating around the web of more inappropriate behavior from Ms. Cyrus. Rumors about more pics – this time phonecam pics of a very private nature, as well as IMs that (if true) would imply that Miley is anything BUT a good girl. I sincerely hope these are not true. But I can promise you, if they ARE true, the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana empire will have one less acolyte. (And I’m proud to say, not just by my choice. My daughter told me, “if Miley’s done bad stuff like Vanessa, I don’t want to watch her show or buy her stuff.”)
Back in the 30s and 40s, the big studios adhered to the policy of “nobless oblige” – the idea that stars had a ‘noble obligation’ to behave in public (at least) in a way that would allow fans to put them up on a pedestal. Not any more. The idea today is all poll-driven. If your star finds themselves embroiled in a scandal, see which way the wind is blowing. If nobody objects too much (Vanessa Hudgens), keep her on the job. If there’s a hue and cry from the sheeple (Jamie Lynn Spears – Brintney’s little sis), you fire her ASAP. The only thing Disney and Nickelodeon/Viacom respect is the power of the almighty dollar.
So what’s a parent to do? I don’t want to tell my daughter she can’t watch her favorite shows. We monitor the shows – carefully. They aren’t the problem. The shows are (generally) wholesome. It’s the music videos and the off-screen antics from which that I want to protect her. Banning TV would be the ‘nuclear option’ – and frankly has more downsides than upsides. But if I keep seeing this overt sexualization of teens and pre-teens, I’ll have no choice. If Disney and Nick make me choose between letting them into our home, or letting our daughter be a kid until she’s in her teens, I’m voting for childhood. And as for my daughter’s jones for All Things Disney, there will always be reruns. Someday.